Ahhhhh, spring is in the air and my garden is starting to grow. While I’m excited about all that spring and early summer offers with respect to new life and growing possibilities, there are things I am beginning to dislike about it–like the bears and the cougars. When the first signs of skunk cabbage are up, I know it’s time to brace myself for the possibility of ‘bear encounters’, because it signals that the bears are awake and heading down into the valley from their alpine boudoirs. Cougars, of course, don’t hibernate, so we can have trouble with them at any time of the year; but the longer days mean longer hours of worry.
Two Mondays ago, my neighbours’ dog went missing during the night: and not just any dog, but a Great Pyrennese guard dog. He was one of three Great Pyrennese dogs they kept to guard their sheep and llamas. The next night a second dog went missing, and by Thursday night they were no longer dog owners. I suspected there was a cougar in the area primarily because my dog had been barking her head off for several nights over the past few weeks, and in the direction where the cougars ‘hang out’.
The other behaviour that really solidified the idea was revealed last week while she and I were on our morning walk to the usual spot by the river, where I sit, have my morning coffee and enjoy the view. For the first time on our walks together, she behaved oddly. When we were about half way to the river, she suddenly came barreling back towards me, circled around behind me, sat down at my left hand side facing back from whence she came and began whining earnestly. When I walked forward and urged her to come along, she circled again in front of me, sat down at my left and whined. She made it clear to me that she would not continue on the walk. She has never done this before, so I decided to listen to her and head home. The second I turned back to head home she morphed back into the happy-go-lucky girl she usually is on our walks. That was some time last week. Three mornings ago, she repeated the drama with both my husband and me. I told him that she had done this last week. He agreed that we should listen to her, so we cut the walk short and had coffee on the safety of our porch back at home!
Two days ago, my friend Clarence went to have a look at what remained, if anything, of the neighbours’ dogs. He came by to let me know about the incident; he had ascertained it was definitely a cougar kill. The cougar had killed the first dog and dragged it into the bushes near their house. He found four visible beds around the area where the cat had bedded down to eat, or nap. He described finding the dog half buried in the bushes, “cached under some dirt and leaves, it was.” It had eaten the front half of the dog by the time Clarence found it: “From his rib cage on down to the tail was all that was left of that poor dog. That cougar’s coming back,” he told me. He emphasized that I should be on high alert (as if I am ever not!) and watch my dog carefully: “She wouldn’t last 5 minutes with a cougar.”
We arranged to go back the next day so I could get some photos and document this incident. We met yesterday, but the cougar had finished off the rest of the dog during the night. It took the cougar twelve days to eat three huge dogs. Since hunting season for cougar closed at the end of April and doesn’t open again until mid-September, our local hunters could not go after the cougar. Consequently, we had to wait for the Conservation Service. As luck would have it, we got a new CO about the same day the cougar killed the first dog! How’s that for a welcome to the valley? The Conservation Officer came last night and set a snare for the cougar, and it was caught and killed today. I was invited to take a look. Whew, now I can relax again for a minute or two! (When I started writing this post, I didn’t know what had transpired today).
I am told this is the 50th cougar killed in the valley since 1999–5 cats per year. There have been 5 killed by Conservation Officers, 2 by automobiles, 1 unknown death (it was found lying dead on a river bank), and the balance (42) by locals. Thirty-one of them were females, seventeen were males and two were unsexed. Some think the high number of females indicates that the Toms are killing the male kittens, and thus we have a higher population of females in the valley, which makes sense from a biological imperative point of view. This latest cougar is the biggest the valley has ever seen; a Tom, he weighed in at 146 pounds (nearly twenty pounds heavier than the last cougar I held!). The CO Service has been kind enough to let someone harvest the meat from the cat so it is not wasted. It will keep the hide and put it into a pool of such skins to be auctioned off to interested folks like my taxidermist friend. Rumour has it that recent changes of legislation have, or are trying to, put a stop to such an auction, the argument being that wildlife should not be used as a commodity. If this argument carries, then instead of being honored in death the animals will be wasted. I wonder why many people find it acceptable that chickens, pigs, sheep, cows, steers, horses, turkeys, goats, and a host of other ‘domesticated’ animals–and their by-products, like eggs–are used as commodities (often with little regard), but not acceptable that bears, cougars, eagles and so on, are made use of upon their death, after a life of freedom?